Because it was there?

I hate to be wrong, but I will admit when I am.

Joe told me I’d be ready to commit to next year’s 195-mile Ragnar Relay as soon as the pain and muscle cramps from this year’s race subsided. He was right, I was wrong. I  had said “no way” but here I am, surfing the web for another crazy opportunity to run down an unfamiliar road in the dark with a headlamp on. And to marvel at the effort other teams put into decorating their vehicles and themselves. And to push my physical limits, including running at 4 a.m. on just an hour’s uncomfortable dozing in the driver’s seat of … whose Suburban was that, anyway?

we weren't organized enough to decorate our van with inflatable lobsters, like this team did

At the time I had the conversation with Joe, who was one of my teammates, the memory of living in a car with four (pungent!) total strangers might have been too fresh in my mind. After all, we’d met sometime in the wee hours of Friday, just before the race took off from Lighthouse Park in New Haven, Conn. at 6 a.m. There were five of us in each of two vehicles, set to run a total of 36 legs of the race, which averaged about 5 miles each. Nothing bound us other than an interest in participating … except perhaps a desire to step outside the usual road race format. And maybe we share the “why the hell not?!” gene as well.

Despite runners in general being a superstitious bunch who like certain socks in certain shoes and can’t leave the house without Chapstick (that’s me), this sort of race throws all of those OCD habits out the window. You have only a general idea about the leg you’re running: the distance and a quick glance at the map so you don’t get lost. Other than that, you may face huge hills, busy roads, a short portion of trail running, running in the dark with a strong smell of skunk hanging in the air … who knows? It’s not for everyone.

Despite not being an habitual morning runner, I had the second leg at about 6:45 a.m., and once I was sure I was on the right street, I enjoyed the misty harbors along the coast for almost 5 miles. That’s when teammate Jon pulled on his kilt and painted his face to resemble Mel Gibson in Braveheart just to make things interesting. We quickly fell into the rhythm of running, navigating, and eating, idle chit-chat, and cheering on competitors from any team we happened to pass along the way.

running with William Wallace on the Ragnar Relay

The psychological aspects of such an experience are worth studying, if not worthy of our own MTV reality show. Our half of the team was comprised of an interesting mix of people. Joe, a veteran runner, was an unabashed fan of his foam roller, and used it after each of his running legs, regardless of the stares he got while laying on it next to the Suburban we drove. Brett was rather quiet, a fit young Army guy with an impressive kick at the finish line — and who managed to slip away into the back seat and sleep an uninterrupted 5 or 6 hours on Friday night — making the rest of us envious on both counts. Jon, a.k.a. William Wallace, was an admitted non-runner and fellow EMS employee who was recruited by his store manager, Ashley… I’m certain he doesn’t even remember her prevarications about the race and his ability to complete it, despite his inability to move his legs on Saturday. And Diana, a recreational triathlete who gets car sick easily, signed up on a whim when she saw Ashley’s poster for the race in the Millbury EMS store. I think she told me it was on her way home from the how-to dogsled/winter camping expedition she’d taken a few months back.

Joe on his foam roller somewhere in Connecticut

There were moments when I didn’t enjoy the experience, like when there wasn’t time to visit the 100th gross port-a-potty on a given day, or when I really just couldn’t sleep in the Suburban’s driver’s seat despite only having had two hour’s naptime in the past two days. Or when I realized a hot shower and brief nap were all I had before facing an 8-hour shift at the store on Saturday after the race.

But would I do it again? Yes, but I’m not sure why. I can only say, why the hell not?

Ashley the instigator preparing to take off on a midday leg of the race


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